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What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

CW: Discussion of sexual violence

Writer: Rosha

Graphic Designer: Anannya

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that relies on the manipulation of power dynamics. Often times, a child or young person is coerced into performing sexual acts in exchange for gifts, money, or protection. They are groomed by their abuser who pretends to care for them and uses that relationship to exploit the minor. In some cases, children and young people may be trafficked across the country and internationally to perform non-consensual acts. CSE is a serious and often hidden problem that affects communities worldwide. It is also important to remember that anyone can be a perpetrator of CSE, regardless of age, gender, or race.

Exploiters can:

  • be male or female, young or old, rich or poor

  • pose as a boyfriend or girlfriend or friend

  • be manipulative, threatening or violent

  • offer the child drugs, alcohol, money, items of value or emotional support for participating in sexual activities

  • act like a manager by placing ads, arranging hotels and driving a child to meet-ups for sex

We all have a responsibility to protect the children and young people in our communities and work towards a future where CSE is no longer a threat. To prevent CSE from happening to others, it is important that we all learn to recognize the signs of CSE and take action.

What does Can Child Sexual Exploitation look like

With increased access to the internet, online child sexual exploitation has become ubiquitous. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection processes more than 100,000 reports every month related to online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Online child sexual exploitation occurs when children are deceived into seeing or participating in sexual encounters online. It is a dark and sinister side of the internet that we must work together to combat.

Child sexual exploitation can take many forms, however, it often begins with an abuser gaining the child's trust or control through violence or blackmail. This process can happen suddenly, leaving the child little time to process what is happening. The abuser may force them to send or post sexually explicit images or videos, engage in sexual conversations, or even film or stream sexual activities. Unfortunately, the abuse does not stop there. Once the abuser has material to blackmail the child into further sexual activity, they may share it with others, in person or online. Sexual exploitation is sometimes used by gangs to exert power and control, to initiate new members, or to use sexual violence as a weapon. Children and young people may sometimes be drugged at parties and then assaulted by one or multiple perpetrators. This humiliating, degrading, and violent act may leave victims and survivors traumatized, scared, frustrated, angry, and lost, regardless of whether they fully comprehend what has happened to them.

How to recognize Child Sexual Exploitation

It is crucial for all of us to learn how to recognize the signs of child sexual exploitation and take action to prevent it. Victims and survivors of Child Sexual Exploitation may withdraw from regular friends and family, become secretive about who they see and where they have been, or hang around older people. They may wear clothing or jewelry they could not afford to buy or carry a lot of condoms or sexual aids. They may also be very secretive or reactive about their browser history, websites they visit, or contacts on their phone. Recognizing the signs of child sexual exploitation and reporting any suspicions or concerns to the appropriate authorities is essential.

A sexually abused child or youth may:

  • Know more about sex than others their age.

  • Behave in an improper or aggressively sexual way with peers, teachers or other adults.

  • Use sexual language or make drawings with sexual images.

  • Start wetting or soiling their pants, wetting the bed or thumb-sucking.

  • Be afraid to go to sleep, have nightmares or sleep long hours.

  • Become withdrawn, anxious, fearful or depressed.

  • Have physical trauma or irritations in the anal and genital areas.

What are some possible solutions:

Child sexual exploitation is a horrific reality that affects far too many young people. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), one in six endangered runaways reported to them in 2020 were likely victims and survivors of child sex trafficking. This is a serious issue that demands our attention. The consequences of child sexual abuse are both immediate and long-lasting. Children who experience sexual abuse can struggle with trust, become isolated from friends and family, perform poorly in school or drop out altogether, become pregnant at a young age, experience unemployment, suffer from mental health problems, attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, engage in criminal behavior, and even end up homeless. The impacts of child sexual exploitation are profound, both emotionally and psychologically.

If a child discloses sexual exploitation to you, it is crucial to listen carefully to what they say, assure them they did the right thing by telling you, let them know it is not their fault, take them seriously, and report what they told you to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible. Confronting the abuser directly is not recommended as it can put you and the child in danger. Instead, let the authorities handle the situation.

If you think a child or youth under 19 years of age is being abused or neglected, please report your concern to a child welfare worker at 1-800-663-9122. For an online BC resource please refer HERE, and for a US resource please refer HERE.

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